Saturday, March 1, 2014

Transformation, aka Take My Chrysalis

I failed out of college spectacularly. There is not a single professor at N.C. State who would remember I was there. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone who did, other than my fraternity brothers. And maybe one disciplinary officer who reprimanded a friend and I after we water-balloon launched an apple some 175 yards through the back window of a neighboring house. Remarkable shot, but that's a different story.

I was a horrible student. I left Raleigh with my tail between my legs, thinking the only option that would make any sense was to go into the Army, do things differently, be out of school for a while and save some money. I've been over this here before, but during the next few months I got myself into Ironman shape and got ready to ship out. And then I met my wife Robin.

My life came down to a decision: go to the Army on April 22, 1995, or opt out and stay. If I stayed, I didn't know what I would do to get back on track. But I knew after meeting Robin that I couldn't go. I had to find out if what we had was as cool and big as what I thought it was. So I stayed. I started cooking again at a seafood restaurant in Oxford. Robin and I moved in together.

I'm a serviceable line cook, prep cook, expediter in a kitchen. I'm not a chef. Words have always been my currency and where I knew my vocation had to be. That meant back to school.

When someone fails out of college, I wonder what the odds are of them going back and graduating are? Not particularly good. What gave me the thought that going back to school would be different, that the outcome would be different? Because I knew. I knew the person that failed out of N.C. State was gone. I knew the outcome would be different, because I knew I was different.

Dean's List at Chesapeake College and an Associates Degree. Scholarship to Washington College. Graduated 10th in my class, 3.8, departmental honors in English, minor in Philosophy, Magna Cum Laude. All while cooking in the evenings and weekends, getting home from work, showering and writing papers all night. My life was different. The person I had become with Robin, there was never a doubt in my mind what the outcome would be.

It seems in my life I have to fail spectacularly in order to get off my ass and make things happen. That's really something I should try to process. Who am I kidding, it's all I've been trying to process lately. Maybe I masochistically like to get knocked to the mat in order to get up and do something really fu**ing cool. Maybe I go through bouts and phases of depression, where I check out, drop out, and need some huge external stimuli to rock my to the core and make me get the fu** up. Wake the fu** up.

But once that happens, I don't go back. I can't go back, because the person that let that sh** happen is gone. Has been annihilated. Has been transformed. A butterfly can't go back, anymore than it can be a butterfly before it is time, anymore that it can get out of its chrysalis before it is time. But once it breaks out, it isn't fu**ing going back inside. It's different. Transformed.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not calling myself a butterfly. I've got tattoos, but I'm not that colorful. I'm not much for flying. But I am transformed, again, and I can't go back. My own version of a chrysalis is shed. No more wasted days.